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Rocky Point Civic Association

The Rocky Point site slated for a residential community for seniors. Photo by Kyle Barr

As drivers hurtle down Route 25A from either direction into the hamlet of Rocky Point they are met by a crossroads. If they keep straight, they will link up with North Country Road and head into the Rocky Point business district lined with shops, restaurants and services. If drivers take a right and continue along Route 25A, they circle around North Country Road, bypassing all those businesses.

It’s been the story since the bypass was constructed in the late 1990s, but it’s just one of the challenges facing business owners in Rocky Point’s commercial district as they wait to see much discussed revitalization.

“The bypass really put downtown on life support,” Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) said. “You can’t just put a bubble around Rocky Point — you can’t just freeze it in time — but I say you have to have a healthy respect for the history of it and plan your development sensitively.”

Councilwoman Jane Bonner and developer Mark Baisch stand near a Rocky Point site slated for a residential community for seniors. Photo by Kyle Barr

Revitalization has been planned for years and small steps taken, but much is left to be desired by those yearning for a vibrant downtown along North Country Road and Broadway, hoping to return back to the prosperity of the mid-20th century, when Rocky Point’s population experienced a boom and new businesses flourished. While new restaurants like the Broadway Market have created a sensation, the memory of stores that have closed down also looms, such as when in April 2017 McCarrick’s Dairy, an utter staple in the community that had been open for 71 years, closed its doors.

While Rocky Point is the only hamlet between Riverhead and Port Jefferson that has a semblance of a real downtown, its small size and limited space have led to unique revitalization issues. As also arises whenever the term revitalization gets thrown around, retaining the historical aspect of the downtown while growing it with a mind toward the future is a delicate balance.

In 2007 the Town of Brookhaven paid Vision Long Island, a nonprofit that advocates for transportation-oriented development, for a charrette about Rocky Point revitalization that was released in 2008. The plan called for a combination of retail, business and residential all in one place, much like what has been attempted in Patchogue, Farmingdale and dozens of other pockets of Long Island. That plan was rejected by the community, which felt it would destroy the small town feel of the area.

“[The Vision plan] was much too aggressive in pro-business and development,” president of the Rocky Point Civic Association Charles Bevington said. “I’m in favor of slow-growth opportunities for small businesses and restaurants. You know you can’t come in and dictate development. We have too many problems with water. We have too many problems with nitrogen in our systems.”

Eric Alexander, the director of Vision Long Island, said his organization’s plans hinged upon sewers, which the community rejected.

“They wanted goods, services and restaurants, something walkable and quaint but that was as far as they wanted it,” Alexander said. “That’s fine, but the numbers didn’t work without the sewers. Revitalization has gone in a few different directions since we left them.”

Some residents said sewers would only be a hindrance to the community’s growth.

“You can’t get the density on Broadway to support the cost of sewers,” said Linda Albo, the owner of Albo Real Estate on North Country Road. “Downtown is just not the right place for sewers.”

In 2012 and 2013 Bonner and Brookhaven secured a $1.2 million grant for road and traffic light improvements along North Country Road. It included setting up new light fixtures and fixing the curb cut along the main road’s intersection with Broadway. Yet real revitalization that would bring business flooding downtown is still a dream, even as some think its advent is just on the horizon.

Mark Baisch, the owner of development company Landmark Properties Ltd., is the latest to attempt to reinvigorate downtown Rocky Point. Its On the Common project promises 40 one-bedroom apartments for seniors inside 10 buildings located along Prince Road and King Road, just north of North Country Road. Also included are plans for a large green space along Prince Road set up for community activities such as the Sunday Rocky Point Farmers Market and a new VFW Memorial Museum right in front of the Brookhaven municipal parking lot. A quarter of the apartments will be reserved for veterans, Baisch said.

The apartments hold a distinction from other residential projects meant to stimulate downtowns. While projects in Patchogue and Ronkonkoma have tried to get young people living in space that is part residential and retail, Baisch said he hopes to do the same with the 55-and-older community.

“There is a huge need for it,” Baisch said. “There’s so many 90- to 100-year-old people living up in the hills of Rocky Point, and nobody even knows they exist. They sit in their house with the rooms closed up not knowing if they’re going to have a way to get out of the next snowstorm. It’s not a great way to live out your twilight years.”

Businesses on North Country Road have pointed to the construction of the Route 25A bypass as a detriment to growth. Image from Google Maps

Some residents are looking forward to the On the Common project with the possibility of leaving home ownership behind.

“I think it is a great idea,” Rocky Point resident Claire Manno said. “I am a senior citizen and have lived in Rocky Point for 20 years. I will have to sell my house eventually because we can’t afford it for much longer. I’d like to stay in the area if possible.”

Other community members questioned why there will only be one-bedroom apartments available.

“I became disabled two years ago,” Rocky Point resident Christine Cohn Balint said. “I have a three-story home and I cannot manage stairs. So we will be selling. But this ‘community’ will not be built for me — they won’t be ready. One bedroom only? They should offer two bedrooms also, if so I’d consider it.”

Baisch said he hopes to start construction around October.

There is hope in the community that good things are coming. The Broadway Market, which opened in March, has made a big splash. Some also looking point to plans in 2019 to start construction on the Rails to Trails project, which will create a biking and hiking path along the old rights-of-way and train rails that run parallel to the North Shore. That path will run north of North Country Road and give people walking and bike access directly into the heart of the commercial district.

“The Rails to Trails is going to have the biggest positive impact,” Bevington said. “It’s going to be along the line of walking and bicycling, and we have two bicycle shops in town that can be aided by the project. That’s really something.”

Alexander said he believes while there wasn’t community support for his organization’s plans, these upcoming projects could result in something good for the area.

“The community has to trust the change, any change that occurs,” Alexander said. “There are a lot of good people over there working in good faith — people who care deeply about the community — that’s what’s most important.”

Broadway Market in Rocky Point, owned by Ann Olenick and Shasho Pole, is conjuring images of a revitalized, walkable downtown community hub for some locals. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Broadway Market, a Rocky Point restaurant that opened in March, has quite a lot on its plate.

It’s not just the food — even though the restaurant has offerings not only for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but all the way through coffee, desserts and alcohol — it’s that owners Ann Olenick and Shasho Pole both respect what a place like the Broadway Market means to the community.

“I think it’s an anchor business, and I think it gives people another reason to try to come here – bringing Rocky Point back to a walking town,” Olenick said.

Olenick and Pole are both area natives, having first met at the Rocky Point Farmers & Artisan Market nearly five years ago. After learning about each other’s expertise, with Pole in the organic meats market and Olenick in baked goods and desserts, the two decided to partner up and take their show on the road. They travelled to multiple farmers markets across Long Island, and by the third year of working together the duo was going regularly to seven local markets every season.

Broadway Market in Rocky Point, owned by Ann Olenick and Shasho Pole, is conjuring images of a revitalized, walkable downtown community hub for some locals. Photo by Kyle Barr

Despite their success on the local market scene, the idea for a brick-and-mortar restaurant didn’t cross their minds until they tried to meet a demand for chicken cutlets. Because of state regulations, they could only sell chickens whole without an inspected, clean location to butcher them. Though the two looked all over Long Island for a proper space, their eyes settled on a location in Rocky Point right near the farmers market where they first met. They settled on a location that was once home to a bar, first named Harry’s Beer Garden and then Gracie’s Hearty Foods.

“It already had all the wastewater approvals, the sanitary requirements we needed and an inspected kitchen,” Pole said. “It’s funny, we went on a quest for a spot, you know a wet space, in a walking town and circuitously we wound up back here.”

The idea grew exponentially past a simple place to sell their meats and sweets. At the start of their building project they thought they could get away with a Keurig coffeemaker, but that transformed into days of barista classes in New York City. They originally didn’t think that the restaurant would have a bar, but since the location already had a liquor license they decided to go through another round of classes, this time in bartending.

“We thought we would have a little closet — a little boutique — and we wound up with all this,” Pole said.

The building sticks out not just for its looks, with modern rustic-gray stonework and barn-wood interior, but for its freshness. Local community leaders have recognized just how much of a turning point the Broadway Market is for downtown Rocky Point.

“The Broadway Market is great — it’s bringing more attention to the community,” said Charles Bevington, the president of the Rocky Point Civic Association. “Rocky Point is still a place where people can invest.”

While the old Gracie’s stood in the same spot as the market, the only things left of the building are the western wall, a chair and the beer tower, now refurbished, that used to belong to both Harry’s and Gracie’s.

Pole said that all the food at Broadway Market is as regionally sourced as possible, including fish and vegetables as long as they are in season. Some 10 percent of the meats are grass fed, particularly the beef used for burgers, and they do their best to get their chickens from free-range sources.

On the bakery side of things, Olenick, who is a college-trained pastry chef, said she offers some of her own designs along with the designs offered by their trained in-house chef Elizabeth Moore.

Though the two owners know their food, it took a bit of time for the pair to figure the ins and outs of operating a restaurant. Over the past several months they have slowly increased the number of days and hours they are open. Now as the sun rises on the restaurant, the building strikes such a distinct poise compared to the other smaller, brown and white paneled buildings it neighbors. Some locals have described it as something one would only see in more affluent areas like in the Hamptons.

Broadway Market in Rocky Point, owned by Ann Olenick and Shasho Pole, is conjuring images of a revitalized, walkable downtown community hub for some locals. Photo by Kyle Barr

“We’ve had people say when are you opening in East Hampton, when are you opening in Huntington? Can you come to Soho?” Olenick said laughing.

“Stop, stop, stop — please, we need to get our traction here first,” Pole said, continuing from where Olenick left off. “There are naysayers, but the feedback that I get here is a resounding ‘we need this, we need something like this.’”

Either way, the community is responding to the new restaurant in a big way. Some see it as a dream of what might be the future of Rocky Point’s downtown.

“It’s good to have a nice restaurant in the area,” said Kenny Kowalchuk, a Rocky Point local who had just finished his meal at the restaurant. “This is really turning the community around.”

Broadway Market is located at 643, Broadway in Rocky Point. The location is open seven days a week, Sunday 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday 2 to 10 p.m. and Tuesday through Saturday 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

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Legislator Sarah Anker played a key role in securing funding for Rails to Trails, a wooded path for bikers and hikers from Port Jefferson to Wading River. File photo by Erika Kara

Though some Suffolk County lawmakers are champing at the bit to see certain local renovations and projects get underway, finding funding has been a tall task with partisan gridlock in the Legislature.

Several items passed during the July 17 legislative session, including funding for Rails to Trails, a two-lane wooded trail that will run from Port Jefferson to Wading River; and repaving and roadwork on a portion of Commack Road from Julia Circle to Route 25A and along Crooked Hill Road from Henry Street to Commack Road. The road borders the towns of Smithtown and Huntington.

The county allocated $1.5 million for the Commack Road repaving, while another $6 million will come from federal aid. Legislator Susan Berland (D-Huntington) said that if the vote did not pass they would have lost access to those matching federal funds.

“Some of it wasn’t done correctly in my opinion, it does need to be widened, it needs to be repaved,” Suffolk County Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) said. “Some parts of that road have had potholes there for years.”

Commack Road has been a point of contention between the towns of Smithtown and Huntington and Suffolk County for close to eight years, according to Town of Huntington Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D). The dispute comes down to which side is responsible for cleaning and repairing the roads.

“We are looking to do everything to protect our taxpayers to make sure we get the appropriate county resources and the road gets paved,” Cuthbertson said.

Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) has been promoting the Rails to Trails project for years. Funding the project through bonds came up for vote July 17 and it passed nearly unanimously with Kennedy abstaining.

“This is a long time coming, and in the seven years I’ve been in office I have not stopped facilitating this project,” Anker said.

The plan is to establish the trail from Port Jefferson to Wading River along rights-of-way and old train tracks able to facilitate both bikers and joggers. During the public speaking portion of the July 17 meeting, the room was filled with supporters for the trail.

“Long Island is filled with too many cars on clogged roads,” said Constance Iervolino, a board member of the Rocky Point Civic Association. “This would be a remarkable way to reduce that public safety threat.”

However, some residents still have large reservations about the project.

“The idea is good, the placement is bad,” Rocky Point resident Mary Anne Gladysz said at the meeting. “I have had many concerns that have not been dealt with. The depth of the asphalt is one of them — only three inches. The only answer I’ve gotten as to why that thin was because they wouldn’t be able to do the whole path.”

Of the $8.82 million for the Rails to Trails project, 94 percent of the project will be funded by federal grants that will be paid back to the county after the project is completed. Half a million dollars of that bond were matching funds from just one of several federal grants, which had a looming August expiration deadline.

Other projects that were re-voted on included $150,000 to finance the planning costs for a new police K-9 unit headquarters and kennel, which was voted down.

Another vote for $2 million in funding for licensing the Rave Panic Button mobile app, a police and rescue emergency application for school and government employees was passed near unanimously with Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) giving the one dissenting vote.

Both the Commack Road repaving and Rails to Trails were voted down at the June 5 legislative meeting as the seven members of the Republican minority in the Legislature voted “no,” citing the projects’ inclusion in a series of lumped bonds. 

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) brought forward a proposal at the June 5 and 19 legislative meetings that included several bundled together bond requests for a wide array of projects to be voted on as a single package, but the seven Republicans in the Legislature did not want to feel forced to vote on items they might disagree with in the future, they said.

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The Brick Studio and Gallery at Rocky Point invites the community for a free screening of Charlie Chaplin’s masterpiece, “Modern Times,” at the VFW Hall, 109 King Road, Rocky Point on Monday, March 6 at 7 p.m. Stay after the movie, enjoy light refreshments and learn about special events and art exhibitions that will happen when the Brick Studio and Gallery opens its doors. For info, call 631-335-2293 or visit www.thebrickstudio.org.

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